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Kate Comeau

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Five ways to spot nutritional misinformation

Last year, I bought a Paleo cookbook.

It all started when I went out to dinner with my mother and we chose a restaurant in Newmarket called Rawlicious. It served raw and vegan food. I was skeptical, but I rather enjoyed my meal and, after reading up on the “Paleo Diet”, I decided to buy the restaurant’s cookbook. Eating raw must be good for me, right?! There were all these advertisements and articles in the newspaper about how cavepeople ate simpler, and therefore healthier, meals. They had less transfats, less processed foods, and less sugars. This diet was sure to make a difference, I thought.

This, I would soon learn, is not essentially true.

Paleo. Gluten-Free. These “diet” terms are everywhere. They pop up every few years and we automatically flock towards them, trusting that the “experts” claiming there are health benefits to each fad. Why are we continually taken in by these crazes? According to Kate Comeau, dietician and spokesperson for Dieticians Canada, it’s a “desire to try something new and try something that will work.”

In this digital age, it’s easy to be consumed by the immense amount of information found on the Internet. There are, quite literally, thousands of blogs dedicated to weight loss and nutrition.

“Something comes up and you look to google, it is second nature. We are advocates of our own health,” Comeau says. “Because of the amount of information, it can lead to more confusion. We want to equip people with smart searching. Bring that information to your health care provider and get them to help you sort through it.”

But, how do we know what advice to trust? Which fads should we follow? Here are five ways to spot misinformation on the web and to make the right choice with your nutritional advice:

The Quick Fix: Losing weight is not a sprint, it is a marathon. It’s also a rather personal journey. There is no miracle-working pill, smoothie, or nutritional regime that will work for everyone. The only way to maintain a healthy lifestyle is to eat well and exercise regularly. Everything else is a false promise that may hinder your weight-loss journey.

The Product Sell: Do you need to buy a pill, a fibre supplement, or an entire week-worth of meals? These special food diets don’t encourage healthy eating habits, and instead make you dependent on the product themselves. There may also be financial gains for the person providing the nutritional advice.

The Personal Story: It’s great that Sally, age 45 with two kids at home, lost 30 pounds eating nothing but fruit for a week, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. It is encouraging to see the results of a successful weight-loss journey, but its not proof that it will work for you. It may not even be true. “It can be quite compelling, especially if they are in an influential position. But just because it works for someone, doesn’t mean it’s science-based or that it would work for you,” Comeau says.

The Study: We hear the words often—”studies show” this [insert diet name here] will make you feel more awake and energized, while still allowing you to lose those extra pounds. But, what study? Were the subjects of the study following the same lifestyle as you? Are they the same age or gender? And is there more than one study to confirm the results? The more scientific evidence available, the more legitimate the advice.

The Qualifications: Celebrity-supported cookbooks are becoming increasingly popular, but I’m not sure when we decided they were the health experts. Look for the initials “RD or PDt” to ensure the person giving you the advice is a registered dietitian. They are the only people who should be giving nutritional advice.

Instead of buying into the latest diet fad or cleanse, Comeau suggests what seems like the simplest solution: eat better and exercise regularly. “I sound like a broken record,” Comeau says. “Eat more vegetables and focus on making food from basic ingredients from home.”

If you, like me, enjoy reading about nutrition and health on the web, try following @DCmemberblogs on Twitter. It is hosted by Dieticians Canada and links to credible, evidence-based blogs about nutrition. Information comes from 40 different member blogs, and there promises to be some amazing recipes in the mix.

For those who want more, Comeau suggests cochrane.org, a website dedicated to evidence-based analysis of health issues.

As for my “Paleo diet”, lets just say I never got that far. Turns out, it is harder to adopt that lifestyle than I thought (and I lot more expensive). I still make some of the recipes, but I don’t claim to do anything more than live by the Canadian Food Guide.

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